Swiss vote for genetic research

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The Independent Online
SWITZERLAND'S mighty pharmaceutical industry was breathing more easily last night after Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to ban the patenting and production of genetically altered plants and animals.

After a highly-charged campaign, it seemed that not one of the country's cantons would approve the referendum proposal, "the initiative for the protection of life and the environment against genetic manipulation". For a referendum to pass in Switzerland, it must be approved by both a majority of voters and a majority of the 26 cantons.

Television exit polls predicted a two-to-one majority against the idea, even in the larger German-speaking part of the country deemed more sensitive to environmental issues. In francophone Switzerland, the referendum was never likely to pass, with one canton, Neuchatel, opposing it by a 78 per cent margin.

The issue has aroused high passions, pitting a core Swiss economic interest against the environmentalist and fundamentalist lobbies, who argue that the manipulation of genes for commercial purposes risks letting dangerous organisms into the food chain, and could lead to unethical treatment of animals used in the research.

But opponents said a `yes' vote would be akin to Switzerland shooting itself in the foot, given the colossal economic importance of pharmaceutical companies such as Roche and Novartis (formerly CIBA-Geigy and Sandoz).

Unsurprisingly Basle, where the industry is based, voted 67 per cent against in the referendum - even though it is German-speaking. Before the vote, both the industry and the Bern government warned that a `yes' vote would force much current research abroad, and with it many highly- paid jobs.